justin allgaier

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Xfinity Series Championship 4 outlook

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What a difference a year makes in the Xfinity Series.

The series enters this weekend’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with only a slight change to its Championship 4 driver lineup but with a massive difference in their record. (Watch at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Last season, Miami arrived with the four drivers – Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick – owning just nine wins among them. Hemric had none, Reddick and Custer each had one and Bell hoarded a rookie record seven victories.

Twelve months later only one name has changed in the final four, with Justin Allgaier entering the fray through his win last Saturday at ISM Raceway.

Together the four drivers have won 21 of the 32 races held this year, with 20 victories claimed by the “Big 3” of Bell, Custer and defending champion Reddick.

Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Championship 4 field.

Christopher Bell (No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Eight (Atlanta, Bristol I, Dover I, Iowa I, New Hampshire, Road America, Richmond II, Texas II)

Career Playoff Wins: Six (including Kansas win in 2017 as part-time driver)

Miami Record: Has a DNF (engine) and an 11th-place finish in two Xfinity starts. Was plagued by a pit stop for a flat tire with 10 laps to go last year. Best finish of second in three Truck Series starts. Won the Truck Series title in 2017. Has been in the Championship 4 in each of his four full-time seasons in NASCAR.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): When Bell is on, he’s on. Twice this year – New Hampshire and Richmond II – he has led all but 14 or less laps.

Outlook: There was no sophomore slump for Bell. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver matched and exceed almost all of his major stats from 2018 and then added to them (he tied his total for top 10s). Notably, he led 1,968 laps compared to his 2018 total of 759. Can Bell get his coveted Xfinity title before making the jump to Cup in the offseason?

“I like where we are at, that’s for sure,” Bell said after his win at Texas two weeks ago. “There were a couple of places earlier in the year that the car drove really, really nice and we just weren’t able to compete with some of the other competitors, but right now, I feel like we can be a little off on balance and still be competitive. So that’s means whenever we hit it we are going to be really good.”

 

Cole Custer (No. 00 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)

Wins: Seven (Auto Club Speedway, Richmond I, Pocono I, Chicago, Kentucky, Darlington, Dover II)

Career Playoff wins: Three (Won at Miami in 2017 when he wasn’t a Championship 4 driver)

Miami record: Three starts in Xfinity. Finishes of 17th, second (2018) and a win (2017). Started second in 2017 and led 182 laps on the way to his first career Xfinity win.

Championship-caliber moment(s): In an overtime shootout to decide the Pocono race in June, Custer capitalized on a bobble by Tyler Reddick in the final turn to pass him and take the win. He also delayed Kyle Busch earning his 200th national series win by a day when he beat him in March at Auto Club Speedway.

Outlook: Cole Custer is really good in Miami, leading 277 laps and finishing in the top two in his last two starts there. That was before he was paired with crew chief Mike Shiplett and stormed to a seven-win season this year. Watch out.

“I think we can go there and win,” Custer said after his runner-up finish Saturday at ISM Raceway. “There’s no reason why we can’t. Last year we led the most laps and this year we’re probably better, so I think we can go there and really compete for a championship.”

 

Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing)

Wins: Five (Talladega, Charlotte I, Michigan, Bristol II and Las Vegas II)

Career Playoff wins: Two (one was as a part-time driver in 2017 at Kentucky)

Miami record:  Two Xfinity starts with finishes of fourth and a win last year to claim a surprise championship. In three Truck Series starts he never finished worse than sixth.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Held off a swarm of threats on the final lap to win at Talladega. Conserved enough fuel to ward off Christopher Bell and win at Las Vegas. Started last in the Bristol night race (due to inspection failures) and had a pass through penalty on the first lap and still managed to win the race. Reddick has won in every imaginable way this year.

Outlook: Reddick is a proven commodity at Homestead and he solidified that last year when he rode the high line against the wall to a championship no one expected him to claim. He’s also proved you can win a championship and arguably be the most improved driver the following year.

“Just had to play it safe at the end to make sure we had enough fuel to get to the checkered flag,” Reddick said after he finished third Saturday. “It’s definitely not the way we normally like to race, but we did what we had to do to get to Miami next week. That was the goal all season, and now we’re there. I’m proud to keep RCR’s streak of making the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series alive for another year. We’ll be ready to race for the title next weekend, and I know my No. 2 team is up for the challenge.”

 

Justin Allgaier (No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports)

Wins: One (Phoenix II)

Career Playoff wins: One

Miami record:  In nine Xfinity starts since 2008, Allgaier’s best two finishes are sixth and seventh, coming in the last three seasons. He’s only led seven laps in those nine starts.

Championship-caliber moment(s): If you’re going to end a 39-race winless streak you might as well do it in the last race that can send you to the Championship 4. Allgaier’s Phoenix win put him into the title round for the third time in four years.

Outlook: The oldest driver in the Championship 4 by nine years, the 33-year-old Allgaier has a chance to put a dent into the “youth movement” narrative that’s driven the Xfinity Series for years. Should he hoist the championship trophy Saturday, he’d give JR Motorsports its third consecutive title.

“We needed this momentum. We’ve had an off year, no questions asked. Every time we think we’re going to be in a great shot to go win a race things have gone completely the opposite of what we thought,” Allgaier said Saturday. “I think we go into next week with a new mentality, a new energy and we got a shot at winning a championship.”

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Bump and Run: Who will win the Cup championship trophy?

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Who do you think will win the Cup championship Sunday in Miami and why?

Nate Ryan: It just feels like Denny Hamlin‘s year.

Dustin Long: I’m sticking with the pick I made before the playoffs of Denny Hamlin winning the title. Two wins and six top-five finishes in the playoffs shows this team is strong enough to win the title and Hamlin has erased any doubts of him handling the pressure on such a big stage. Come Sunday, NASCAR will celebrate another first-time Cup champion.

Daniel McFadin: Denny Hamlin. His hiccup at Texas aside, it’s felt like momentum’s been on his side this year starting with his Daytona 500 win, propelling him to his best season in nearly a decade. Hamlin just feels at ease this year, no matter what’s thrown at him. His performance on Sunday exemplified that.

Jerry Bonkowski: Denny Hamlin. If there’s been one hallmark this season, it’s that he’s risen to the occasion when he needed to the most. I just get the feeling that after so many shortcomings in his career, this will finally be the year Hamlin comes through. All three of his challengers are former past champions. Now it’s the Virginia kid’s turn to shine in the Florida sun and earn his long overdue first championship.

Who do you think will win the Xfinity championship Saturday in Miami and why?

Nate Ryan: Christopher Bell. His team has had the most time to prepare and took advantage by leaving its car chief in North Carolina to work on its Toyota for the title.

Dustin Long: A year after finishing second to Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer returns to Miami to capture his first series tittle.

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick. He’s won in every way imaginable this year and usually done it when he didn’t have the best car. The only difference between a potential title this year and last season is that it won’t be a surprise.

Jerry Bonkowski: Sentimentally, I’d like to see Justin Allgaier win. He’s kind of been the Denny Hamlin of the Xfinity Series, having come so close so many times, but never cashing in. But it’ll take a near-miracle for Allgaier to beat Christopher Bell in his Xfinity swan song. So, I’m picking Bell.

What is the more remarkable achievement: Joe Gibbs Racing tying Hendrick Motorsports’ record in the modern era of 18 wins in a season or JGR putting three drivers in the Championship 4 race?

Nate Ryan: Having three-quarters of the championship field in such a treacherous playoff structure might not happen again.

Dustin Long: Winning 18 of 35 races (and five of the nine playoff races) in what is supposed to be the most competitive era of the sport is the more remarkable achievement. JGR doesn’t place three of its drivers in the championship race without that season-long dominance that helped its drivers build playoff points and continue that success in the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The 18 wins. Putting three drivers in the final is impressive, but it’s not completely a surprise because Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have been three of the best drivers this year and make up 17 of JGR’s 18 wins. That they were able to reach 18 wins with Erik Jones only winning once is astounding.

Jerry Bonkowski: There wouldn’t be three JGR drivers in the Championship 4 if it wasn’t for their combined 18 wins (includes one win by non-finalist Erik Jones). The latter is obviously the most remarkable achievement.

ISM Raceway winners and losers

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WINNERS

Denny HamlinHad to either make up a 20-point deficit or win to advance to the championship race for the first time since 2014. He won and helped erase some of the memories of his ill-fated 2010 race at ISM Raceway that led to him losing the title that season.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Denny Hamlin’s win was the 18th (in 35 races) this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, which ties it with Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 for most wins by an organization in one season. The 1-2 finish by Hamlin and Kyle Busch marked the sixth time this year that JGR has gone 1-2 in a Cup race. And, three of JGR’s four drivers — Hamlin, Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — will race for the Cup title in Miami. Oh, by the way, JGR also will go for the Xfinity title in Miami with Christopher Bell.

Justin Allgaier After scoring five wins last season, he was looking at going winless this year. Instead, he wins at ISM Raceway and secures a spot in the Xfinity championship race, joining Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer.

Fans — ISM Raceway reported that it sold out its 42,000 grandstand seats for Sunday’s Cup race.

LOSERS

Chase ElliottFinished last after crashing in a must-win situation to race for a title. His three finishes in the Round of 8 were 36th (Martinsville), 32nd (Texas) and 39th (ISM Raceway).

Joey Logano How a car that was leading could falter and be lapped was a question Logano and his team had after failing to advance to the championship race and defend their 2018 title.

Results, points after Xfinity race at ISM Raceway

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There is now one race remaining in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season — and it’s the biggest one yet, as it will determine who the champion will be.

Let’s look back at Saturday’s penultimate race of the Xfinity playoffs and how the results and standings impacted what will take place a week from now in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

RESULTS:

Justin Allgaier just supersized the so-called “Big Three.”

With his win Saturday at ISM Raceway, Allgaier joins the Xfinity Series’ Big three – Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and defending series champ Tyler Reddick – in next Saturday’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In addition to Allgaier’s win, Custer finished second and Reddick was third in Saturday’s race.

Bell, meanwhile, dominated the first two stages, leading 89 of the first 90 laps, before he was penalized for speeding on pit road, sending him to the back of the lead lap. Then, on Lap 117, Bell suffered a solo spin that brought out the caution. He wound up finishing a distant 16th.

Click here for race results.

POINTS:

As for the reseeded results, the now “Big Four” all head to Miami tied at 4,000 points apiece. They won’t have to worry about stage points in that race. Rather, the game plan is simple: the driver who finishes above the other three will emerge as the champion.

As for the four drivers who failed to advance to the Miami championship-deciding season finale, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe are both tied for fifth place with 2,252 points apiece, while Michael Annett is eighth (2,210 Points) and Noah Gragson is ninth (2,208 points). Sandwiched in-between in seventh place (2,212 points) is John Hunter Nemechek, while Brandon Jones rounds out the top 10 with 2,173 points).

Click here for updated/reseeded standings.

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